Criminal defense lawyers love trying cases to a jury. The process evokes the inherent competitiveness that got us into this business in the first place. We can’t wait to give an opening statement, cross-examine witnesses, make objections and put our own evidence before the jury. Naturally, closing arguments are exciting particularly when the trial evidence has set the stage for a compelling argument to the jury advocating the acquittal of the accused. In the excitement of getting started however many lawyers forget to discuss with their clients the possible composition of the jury. This post discusses who might be on your jury in Massachusetts.
What are the Qualifications for Jurors in Massachusetts?
The answer to this is pretty simple. Anyone qualified to vote can serve as a juror. There is no need to be a registered voter. Jurors have to be eighteen years old, a citizen, not incarcerated and without any convictions for election fraud. Interestingly enough, people with criminal records are not disqualified from jury service even if they spent some time in jail. As a practical matter district attorneys will challenge a potential juror for cause if he or she has a criminal record. Most judges permit the challenge but some will require the prosecutor to use a peremptory challenge. The majority of elected officials, judges, clerks, religious leaders and lawyers are exempt from jury service. This does not mean that they cannot serve, rather that they can claim the exemption if they want to.
What Questions Are the Jurors Asked Prior to Impanelment?
There are certain statutory questions that the judge must ask potential jurors if either party so requests. The judge must ask whether there is an interest in the outcome of the case, any bias about the case and whether a juror has formed any opinions about the case. In criminal cases the judge must also ask if the potential jurors understand that the defendant is presumed innocent, that the prosecution has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that the defendant does not have to present any evidence on his behalf.
Can I Challenge Jurors and Prevent Them From Sitting?
Yes. There are two types of challenges that can be exercised to exclude jurors from sitting. The first is a challenge for cause. Anytime a party feels that a juror will not be able to impartially sit and decide the evidence a challenge for cause can be made. The trial judge decides whether this challenge is legitimate and whether or not to exclude the juror. The second type of challenge is known as a peremptory challenge. This allows a party to exclude someone for no reason. The number of peremptory challenges available to a party is established by rule and depends on the nature of the criminal case.
How Important is the Jury Selection Process?
Some lawyers will tell you that cases are won and lost during jury selection. I strongly disagree with statement. Unlike some states the Massachusetts criminal jury selection process does not permit too much digging into the proclivities of the potential jurors. Some judges inquire beyond the statutorily mandated questions on their own. Other do so at the request of the parties. Still, others ask no more than what is minimally required. The bottom line is that in Massachusetts it is virtually impossible to effectively profile possible jurors.
Impaneling jurors is largely done on instinct and experience. We have tried well over one hundred cases to juries over the past three decades. Call us at 617-263-6800 if you want us to represent you at your jury trial.